Most people to claim to have loved their club from day one, I do not. Don’t get me wrong I’ve always supported Arsenal there was no choice, from the day I was born my Dad would have it no other way. It’s all I knew. But at first I didn’t quite get it.
My earliest football memory is laying on my Nan’s living room floor watching the 98 Cup Final on TV. The image of Anelka and Overmars walking around the Wembley pitch with the FA Cup is not one I’ll ever forget. Good times, but at the age of 7 I still didn’t really get what it was all about.
Fast forward just under 3 years and I was to attend my first Arsenal game. Away to Man United. At Old Trafford in the HOME end of all places. Not ideal if I’m honest. 25th February 2001, I always remember the date as it was my sisters Birthday and she obviously was unimpressed that me and my Dad were disappearing to Manchester for the day.
We left early that morning and made the long car journey there. As you can imagine Old Trafford as a 10 year old is a quite a daunting place to watch your first ever football match especially surrounded by 60,000 Mancs. Like I said, not ideal. I remember it being bitterly cold and within two minutes we’re one nil’ down. Now the plan was to try to blend in within the home end so obviously we’re the only two sitting down two minutes in. Cover blown. Then, 14 minutes in. Henry equalises! My first experience of joy and excitement at an Arsenal game. My Dad trying to keep the celebrations low key, there wasn’t really any point as we were losing again almost instantly. It all went downhill from there and we got absolutely battered 6-1. I seem to remember Stephanovs running down the wing during that game and even at 10 years old even I knew he belonged nowhere near a team like Arsenal.
After the game we met the woman who sorted out the tickets. She asked in a thick Manchester accent if I was going to become a United fan now. I was slow to answer as I didn’t have a clue what she was saying so my Dad was quick to jump in. “No. No he isn’t”
I was a bit gutted after the game not as much as my Dad as clearly losing 6-1 at my first ever game was not what he imagined would happen.
So after that I’m still struggling to see what the fuss is about.
The next game I went two was Liverpool. Again away from home again absolutely freezing cold and again stuck in the home end! I’d won tickets so couldn’t really complain. 23rd December 2001 another date I remember strangely my Dads birthday this time. This time however everything went well we played well and won 2-1. I remember Freddie scoring and running off into the away fans and being insanely jealous of them. This time there we’re know muted celebrations, the full time whistle goes and we went for it! Swiftly leaving afterwards.
Now I had the taste for this ‘going to the football’ lark. I couldn’t wait for the next time.
The first home game I went to was against Blackburn the following season, I can’t remember the date (can’t have been anyones birthday). The whole family went this time. Me my Dad my Mum and my Sister. I was so buzzing for it. We got the tube to Arsenal and walked along Gillespie road. The first thing I noticed was the smell, burger vans/horse shit/beer, doesn’t sound nice but its a smell that I’m sure everyone recognises every time you go to football and it always reminds me of that day. We turned the corner on to Avenell Road and I saw Highbury up close for the very first time. A lot of people say they fell in love with Highbury instantly and this time I agree. What a place. Seeing the windows on the side of the North Bank and seeing people finding there seats gave me goosebumps and excited butterflies inside. I wanted to get inside quickly. When we found our spot on this North Bank I couldn’t stop looking all around at this amazing ground. As a young kid it is mesmerising you just try to take it all in.
The game kicked off and we were one nil down early on from a strange Edu own goal. But then later in the half he made it all right by scoring the equaliser. I’ll never forget that goal, the first time I celebrated an Arsenal goal at a game amongst the right fans! It was mental. The noise was deafening and I’m pretty sure I ended up a few seats along.
We went on to lose 2-1 I was disappointed but everything about that day bar the result was spot on. The smells, the sights, hearing the outbursts of chants from all around Highbury, joining in and finally being at a home game.
All of these things finally making me realise what it was all about and making me fall in love with The Arsenal. Something that I will never stop doing, I still get the same excited butterflies every time I go and I hope I always do and I hope when I have a son its exactly the same for him.
I think i’ll avoid United away for his first game though…
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